Where are the now? Alumni Trailblazer Steve Nazarian, PhD'07

“Two biologists and an engineer walk into a bar,” reads the first line of the Forked River Brewing Company’s online history. The start of a popular joke, it’s also the way the microbrewery came about.

Founders and co-owners Steve Nazarian, PhD’07, Andrew Peters, MSc’00, and Dave Reed, BESc’98, used their combined expertise of microbiology and mechanical engineering to bring their craft beers to market.

“We’ve taken our knowledge and applied it to making really great craft beer,” said Nazarian. “It’s not the cure for cancer, but we’re making people happy.”

Entering the Forked River headquarters in east London is like walking into a fermentation laboratory.

But the clink of glass on glass isn’t beakers, it’s the unmistakable rattle of beer bottles being filled and packaged. The distinct aroma of malted grain and hops hangs in the air.

Less than two years since launching, the Forked River Brewing Company is enjoying great success with local craft beer enthusiasts.

Brought together by a shared passion for brewing, the three co-owners were all part of a regional home brewing club for more than two years before turning their hobby into a business opportunity.

“Designing your own original recipes is a lot of fun,” Nazarian explained. “As home brewers, we always wanted to share our beer and liked the interaction with other beer lovers. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to continue doing what we love.”

The team created a simple business plan and investigated start-up costs. A small employment business grant helped get the brewery off the ground and it officially opened its doors in June 2013.

The instant success was unexpected. On opening day, Forked River sold out of 1,500 bottles within three hours.

That momentum hasn’t slowed; the brand has only grown in popularity during the past year. The company has a booming wholesale division with its two staple beers, Capital Blonde Ale and Riptide Pale Ale, and also produces one-off brews that fly off the retail location’s shelves.

“The local support has been overwhelming,” said Nazarian. “We’ve connected with many beer lovers and businesses in the community that we now rely on.”

Nazarian has a professional background working with product systems that prepared him well for life as a microbrewer. Following completion of his PhD at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in microbiology and immunology, he worked at Viron Therapeutics Inc. in a variety of roles, ultimately serving as the Director of Preclinical Development.

“Making beer and making pharmaceutical products isn’t all that different,” he said. “Working in industry gave me experience with process controls, quality systems and getting to know a production environment.”

The transition to entrepreneurship also brought about a whole new set of skills.

“We’re brewers, we’re owners, we’re the salesmen, we’re the people who sweep the floors, we do the deliveries and the accounting,” he explained. “Like a lot of entrepreneurs, you have to be able to do everything.”

The most important goal for the Forked River brewers is to put London on the map for craft beer. With local demand increasing steadily, the company has been able to find a place on the shelf for their Riptide Rye Pale Ale at LCBO locations.

“Giving someone a beer they’ve never tried before and seeing their face light up, that’s what we lived for as home brewers and we can do that on a bigger scale now,” said Nazarian.